“The Boy with the Blue Clouds” – Crystal Ma ’22

I glanced around the gallery, at the shining lights, the clusters of people, and the paintings hanging on the wall—my paintings. The lull of the chatter floated around and the occasional flash and click of a camera flitted back and forth. I strolled through, nodding, smiling politely and shaking hands with curators and viewers. 

 “Absolutely wonderful…”


“A freshly artistic statement…”

“Phenomenal expression…”

“The rich application of colors is just groundbreaking…”

I bowed my head at each comment and murmured my thanks. But those weren’t the words I wanted to hear, nor were they said by the person I wanted to hear it from. This had to be enough—closure for Yoon, closure for me. 

“FORTUNE, come back, you cannot run away, you mess up again! You need to finish practice piano!” My mother’s shrill voice followed me as I pushed open the back door, grabbed my pink scooter, and shot off down the road. 

As soon as my mother’s voice disappeared into the wind, I took a deep breath, letting all of the air expand into my lungs. The fresh air never smelled better. I absolutely despised piano, and I despised the fact that my mother forced me to play it because I needed to live up to the ‘Zhao family name’. I hated the fact that my mother disapproved of painting because it was “useless” even though I loved it, perhaps because I loved it. Instead, everyday, 4 hours, continuous practice, and I think I’ve slowly lost track of myself because all I saw were those black and white keys and the bunches of tadpoles swimming between the lines on paper. What nine year old wants to sit still for 4 hours staring at tadpoles? I hated tadpoles. 

I pushed myself, one push at a time, up the hill and as soon as I hit the flat peak. I let the momentum carry my scooter down, my eyes squinting against the wind blowing in my face, my chopped, black, shoulder-length hair billowing around my shoulders, tangling in knots, and my big t-shirt flapping at my back. I loved the downhills because for a moment, I could feel completely free, unrestrained, and open. 

My neighborhood was like a lollipop: a circle with three big hills and two tiny ones and one singular straight road sticking out; we all called that road the Stick. No one from the lollipop part went down the Stick though because apparently, a kid with blue clouds lived there. Neighborhood kids said that he was wack and talked in squiggly riddles. Even weirder—the rumor was that he was blue as a blue raspberry ring pop. I didn’t believe them, but then again, I couldn’t say anything since I’ve never even seen him. 

I started pushing myself up the uphill of the last big hill; my arms were outstretched in front of me, hands gripping the handles as I kept my head down, focused on my feet, the ground below me, and my scooter. Down, push, down, push, down, push, down, push—BAM! I collide scooter and head-first into another small head. Our scooters tangle with a clang and crash on to the grass of fall leaves, intertwined, one pink, one blue. 

“I’m so sorry, are you ok? Are you hurt? I wasn’t looking…I’m so sorry!” 

I held my head. Then I reached out a hand to the small boy sitting on the ground, dazed. His shaggy black hair was in disarray, sticking up in every possible axis and direction. His thin, dark eyes peeked out from behind his curtain of bangs, and he just looked at me for a long moment, his eyes seemingly scanning my face. After a while, they fixated on my pin-straight, fine, jet black hair. I waved my hand tentatively in front of his face, trying to get his attention. Suddenly, he turned to look at the scooters on the ground and blurted out, “I like your scooter, it has nice blues in it.”

“But… my scooter is pink.”

“No, no it’s got blue in it.”

“Are you seeing things?”

“You just need to look for it.”

He grabbed my hand that I had left sticking out and helped himself up. He was shorter than me, scrawny looking, a bit pale, and seemed maybe my age. That’s when I noticed the clothes he was wearing: a deep red t-shirt that hung awkwardly off his thin frame and medium green pants that were a couple inches too short. He paired everything with some purple socks, yellow slippers, and a light red scarf on top. In all of my meager 9 years as an artist, I’ve never seen someone wear something so grotesquely mismatched with absolute confidence. Yet someone, this boy, who called “pink” “blue,” did so with an utter lack of shame.

I was still staring at his outfit when he bent down to pick up my “pink” scooter and handed me the pink grip of the handle bar. 

“I’m Lee Yoon-ji, but you can call me Yoon.”

“Fortune, Fortune Zhao.”

He stuck out his pale, skinny hand to shake mine, but his palm had tracks of mud and grass from when he fell. I eyed the mush on his hand and tentatively gripped the top part of his fingers, hoping to avoid getting my hands muddy, only for Yoon to pull my entire hand towards him and grip it fully, smushing the grass and mud tightly between our palms. I inwardly cringed, but Yoon smiled broadly with all of his crooked teeth showing, “We’ve smushed blue together! That means we’re now best friends!” as he shook my hand enthusiastically. His hair moved with the entire movement of his arm, “Blue? Smushed blue? Best friends?”

A bit incredulous, but also amused, I couldn’t help but smile with him, shaking my own arm enthusiastically in return. His energy was infectious and it made me forget all the sad things like the tadpoles I still needed to stare at or the paintings Mama ripped in half to deter me from doing art. 

“I don’t know about blue, but yah, best friends.” I smiled, it was nice to have a friend. I hadn’t had a friend in quite a while. 

“As your new best friend, I’m going to show you the best mochi spot ever!” Yoon exclaimed, beaming, as he started pulling me down the hill, with his scooter in his other hand, clanging loudly behind him. 

“But I don’t have money.” 

“Don’t worry, they have the best blue mochi!”

“Blue mochi? They make that?” I asked, momentarily forgetting the money problem as Yoon continued leading me down the street. 

“Yah! I’ll show you! Besides, I can pay!”

“You have money? Where did you get it from?”

“It’s my weekly chore allowance!” 

“Oh, I do chores too, but my parents don’t pay me,” I said dejectedly, wishing my parents would do the same. At least then I could buy ice cream or mochi myself. 

“That’s ok, you have me! I’ll help you!”

“Yoon, you’re half my size and half a head shorter…how are you going to help me?” I mean… I admired his confidence, but let’s be realistic, he looked like he was going to be blown away by the wind and if anything, I should be the one holding him down.

“Hey! Don’t judge appearances! I’m eight years old! I can do alot of things! I also know a lot of things too! I can teach you!” He puffed out his chest and looked up at me. 

I laughed, “I’m nine, and you’re younger than me.”

“So?” He tilted his head and looked at me.

“What could you possibly teach me?”

“You’ll see! But let’s go get blue mochi first!”

“Right. Blue Mochi. Lead the way.”

Yoon grabbed my hand, the hand that’s now also caked with grass and mud, and led me through a backyard and some woods out to a neighboring mini shopping plaza. We left our scooters next to a bike rack and walked to a small shop in the back, where a dingy sign at the top read “Mochi Delight”. The sign flickered dimly, and unless you knew this shop was back here, you would probably never step foot in here. 

Yoon pushed through the front door and hollered, “Nai Nai! I’m back”

An old lady with grey hair streaked with black, wrinkles around her eyes that crinkled when she smiled, and glasses so thick that her eyes looked huge, popped up from behind the front counter. Her eyes lit up as soon as she saw Yoon.

“Yoon-A, I missed you! What would you like today?”

“The usual Nai Nai!” He beamed at her, his smile radiating like a halo.

“Of course, my angel.” Nai Nai then proceeded to pull a pink and a green mochi out of the freezer, put them on a plate and handed them to us.

Yoon gave her $4 and took the plate with both hands. 

“I’ll be back in a couple days Nai Nai, take care!”

Nai Nai waved at us as we pushed out the front door. 

We squatted down and sat on the ledge of the sidewalk, and Yoon said, “look, there’s blue.”

“What do you mean blue?” I didn’t know what he was talking about. There was clearly a pink mochi and a green mochi, but definitely not a blue mochi. 

“Ok ok, just listen to me. You need to be open minded and you need to look, ok?”

“Ok, I will.”

“Ok, Fortune, look at the trees over there. What color are they?”


“Yes, but look closer, is it only green?”

“There’s green, brown, orange, some red, and a little yellow.”

“Ok, now look at the shadow and the space between the trees.”

“What? They’re just either really dark versions of those colors or just black.”

“No no not black. Look at the sky. What color is it?”


“Good. How big is the sky?”

“It’s infinite.”

“Good. Does it cover all of us and everything we see and live among?”


“Good. Now look at the trees again. What color are they?”

I sat for a moment, not answering Yoon, just looking at those trees in the distance. Gradually, I noticed something: the shadows I thought were black began differing into shades of blue, and the crevices and negative spaces between the folds of leaves projected just a slight hint of blue. There was green, brown, orange, some red, and a little yellow, but somehow, there was also a little blue. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? I squinted again and tried to look closer, but I couldn’t see the blue anymore.

“I thought I saw something, but it disappeared.”

Yoon’s eyes lit up, “yes yes you’re getting there!”


“Ok, just don’t think too much about it, just let it happen. Feel the colors and their energy.”

“Ok, I’m trying.”

“Look at the car. What color is it?”


“Now look closer.”

I stared at the car and I noticed that the top of it shined slightly blue. 

“It has a blue hue on top!”

“Yah! It reflects the blue from the color of the sky.”

“Yoon, is your favorite color blue? All you talk about is blue.”

“You see, blue is in all of us and everything around us, there’s blue, but too much blue. The world is so blue now. Water is blue, but so are tears. When people frown, the lines that form on their face reflect blue. That’s the way the world works, Fortune, the blue in us sometimes drowns out the rest of the colors.”

“So everyone is blue? What about me?”

“When I first saw you with your scooter, your whole face was fifty shades of blue! Your hair was blue too!”

“How? It’s black.”

“No, no, look again, the shadows, the lines and what it reflects. Your hair shields your face, so obviously it reflects blue!”

“My face was blue?”

“Yah. Why were you riding your scooter today?”

“Because I felt like it?”

Yoon shook his head, raised his eyebrows—though it really just looked like the top of his eyelids went up because his eyebrows were lost underneath his shag of black, well I guess maybe, blue hair—and looked at me pointedly.

“Well…my mom was yelling at me about piano and I hate playing piano. It’s so boring, so monotonous, and all I do is stare at black and white keys and tadpoles!”

“Right, so you came out to ride your scooter to avoid that?”

“Yah,” I sighed, looking down at my hands and picking at my hangnails. 

“That’s ok, Fortune, your face isn’t really that blue anymore. You just have to be able to see the blue, embrace, and understand it. Then it will be ok!”

“I’ll try, Yoon, I’ll try.”

“Here, look at the mochis. You see, alone, they aren’t blue, but when they come together, they form a small crack that reflects their colors. See,” Yoon pointed to a spot in between the mochis where they sat together. “It’s blue. But mochis are supposed to be eaten. So here.” Yoon handed me the pink mochi and we both scarfed them down. 

“See Fortune, they aren’t blue anymore,” Yoon said as he shrugged with a smile.

“Yah, cause they’re in your stomach!” I giggled. Yoon was a funny kid. “We should probably go back now, I need to keep practicing piano.”

“Ok, fine. Can we meet here again tomorrow?”

“Yah, of course!” I smiled, excited to be doing things with my new best friend. Maybe I’ll learn about more blues.

“Sounds good!” Yoon smiled at me.

“My house is in the opposite direction, so I’ll see you tomorrow!” Yoon told me.

I grabbed my scooter and started walking towards the woods to my house, and Yoon stood at the edge of the sidewalk and waved goodbye.  

“Fortune!” I turned my head around to look at Yoon.

“Don’t forget to look for the blues!”

“Ok I won’t forget!” I yelled back. A smile creeped up on my face and I started walking home. 

I made the trek home, propped my scooter against the wall, and pushed open the back door. My mother was nowhere to be seen.

Maybe I’ll try to practice piano again. I sat down at the bench and just stared at the black and white keys.. As I placed my hands on the keys, the black keys slowly didn’t seem so black anymore and the white weren’t so bone white anymore. C, B, A, E, F#…one note at a time, one melody at a time, the keys and the tadpoles on the paper begin morphing into… blue, myriads of hues and shades of blue. It was so beautiful, stunning—the shades of blue. And as I fell deeper into the music, immersing myself in that world, the blues surrounded and engulfed me. But, they didn’t seem so scary, and for the first time, practicing piano and staring at tadpoles wasn’t so bad after all. 

Just like that, days, weeks, months flew by, Yoon and I always met at our regular mochi spot on the sidewalk and he would impart the wisdom of blues on me. Yoon and I were inseparable and he was my rock. 

It was interesting, to be able to look at a chocolate chip cookie and see blue. At least I tried to see blue from Yoon’s point of view, and tried to fit in Yoon’s world. His world meant a place of just colors and simple things and the artist in me reveled in that. At home, if I even picked up a paintbrush, Mama would smack it out of my hand and destroy any of the supplies or work she could find. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t let me paint, and she maintained her position. I’d resorted to painting in the middle of the night and hiding everything in the panel of the back of my closet. 

Today was like any other day. I slipped out of the house and ran to the “Mochi Delight”, but I didn’t see Yoon standing at his usual spot by the edge of the sidewalk. I walked over and pushed the door open to “Mochi Delight” and saw NaiNai sitting at the edge of the counter rolling out orange mochi balls. 

“NaiNai, where’s Yoon? Have you seen him?”

“No, he hasn’t come by today yet. Why don’t you wait for him for a bit?”

I walked back outside and plopped down on the sidewalk. I stared at the trees, but now bare and spindly, in the distance—like skeletons. They didn’t really have the same blues as before, but now they seemed bluer than ever, bare and juxtaposed against the hazy backdrop of distant hills. A cold breeze swept past, and my sherpa jacket suddenly felt too thin. I glanced at the smattering of cars throughout the parking lot, they were mostly black or grey with a couple random greens or reds scattered throughout. No silvers though. Why wasn’t he here yet? Did something happen? He always showed up. My feet started tapping erratically, either from nervous apprehension or the cold, or both— I couldn’t tell. I shoved my hands in my pockets and buried my nose into the collar of my jacket. I don’t know how long I was sitting there, but my butt had long gone numb and my ears were so cold they were burning. I gingerly stood up and scanned the plaza and parking lot. Yoon wasn’t here. I sighed, too tired and too cold to debate staying and trekked home. The trek seemed longer than it had ever before and I barely looked at the trees or the nature around me like I usually did. Thoughts were racing through my head: Where is Yoon? Why didn’t he come? Did something happen to him? Is he ok? I hope he is. Did he finally realize that I’m a failure like my mother always said? Maybe he didn’t want to be friends with me anymore? No. I shook myself out of my downward spiraling thoughts. No, he must have just been busy right? Right. I just walked home, cold and concerned for Yoon. 

I waited at our mochi spot the next day, only to again return with numb toes and a frozen butt. I went the next day and waited, munching on mochi and stomping my feet trying to stay warm; I returned home with numb fingers and still, a frozen butt. And so it went on like this, for the next week: I would go, wait, return home with a frozen butt and growing disappointment and the creepings of despair. I couldn’t contact Yoon, I didn’t even know where he lived. I realized, I really didn’t know much about Yoon, other than the fact that he was a 10 year old boy that loved Mochi and blue. 

I kept returning to our mochi spot, but every single day of a week soon turned to 4 days, 2 days, then 1 day, then once every two weeks, and finally to once every while. My mother was pushing piano practice harder everyday and I wasn’t able to get out of the house so often anymore. But, I always made sure to check back at least one with NaiNai for the mochi and to ask, “Have you seen Yoon?”

She would always dejectedly tell me, “No, he hasn’t come in so long. I miss him so dearly.”

Me too, NaiNai, me too. 

It had been 2 years since the day Yoon disappeared and there isn’t a day I don’t think about him and his blues. Today, I walked to the neighborhood community center a couple houses over to pick up some larger packages that were shipped there instead of our house. As I was carrying the smaller boxes out to the wagon I brought over, I overheard some of the older kids that were standing in a circle, talking.

“Yo, did you hear that kid living on the Stick died.”

“Like the one they call ‘the boy with the blue clouds’?”

“Yah, that one.”



“What happened?”

“I think they took him to the hospital one day and he’s been there ever since.”

I didn’t think much of it when they first said it. I didn’t know the boy with the blue clouds and I’ve never seen him either. I dropped my box off at the wagon and came back. 

“…diagnose him?”

“I think blood disease? It’s like the one where you don’t have enough oxygen in your blood so your blood starts turning blue. I think you also turn blue too bruh.”

“Oh, maybe that’s why they called him ‘the boy with the blue clouds’.”

“Haha, yah probably, I mean I think it was also cause he was wack as shit and talked real weird. He’s apparently a bit cuckoo you know.”

“Oh yah, my mom also told me they said he was hella color blind, like he literally couldn’t see any color too.”

“Man’s life must have actually sucked ass.”

“Yah imagine, can’t relate.”

I grabbed another large box off the pile and started making my way to the door. 

“You know that the kid’s name is?”

“Yah, I think it’s something like…Yoon?”

I dropped the box; my heart, my mind, my brain, everything froze. A chill ran up my spine into my head and I couldn’t think, I couldn’t think. No, no, no, not Yoon. All I could hear was the roaring silence and the world spinning. The world that Yoon taught me was blue. Not Yoon. I forgot the boxes, the wagon and I ran and sprinted towards our mochi spot, the path now overgrown with grass and nature. My lungs burned and I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t imagine, only had my feet take me there by sheer habit from all those days making that trek. I made it to that spot, his spot, on the sidewalk and collapsed. Tears fell freely down my face, and my heart just hurt. Why Yoon, why did the world have to take him from me, he was a beautiful soul, my beautiful best friend. 

I buried my face in my hands, crying, tears going in salty tracks down my face. I cried, until my eyes were dry and there were no tears left to cry, until I was numb, from the cold, and from the pain. 

I walked home slowly. My mind flitted through all of our memories, scooters, the blue trees, the blue car, the blue mochi, the blue world, our blue selves. I could see Yoon’s shaggy hair, blue hair, and his eyes that would narrow into a line when he laughed. His thin hands that he would use to hand me mochi, motion to make jokes, point to teach me the world, and wave goodbye from his spot on the sidewalk. I could hear his twinkling laughter that would always accompany everything he would say, or the stupid things I would say, and all the pep talks he gave me about pursuing painting. Yoon was my light, and now he was gone, for good. 

No. This wasn’t what Yoon taught me, this wasn’t what Yoon would have wanted. No. I had to keep his soul in my heart and bring his energy and spirit to everyone. People deserved to learn about the blues, the beautiful blues. 

When I got home, I picked up my paintbrush and began to paint. 

The paintings looked good, basking under the mellow glow of the spotlights, accompanied by the soft classical and hushed whispering of the crowd. One of the men with cameras approached me, walking up carefully and reaching a hand out.

“Jeremiah Cloak, a pleasure.”

I dipped my head in acknowledgement and smiled, my generic response to all men with cameras. But, this man didn’t let go of my hand. 

“May I… just ask you one question? Truly, your work is so ground-breaking, and you’re an inspiration for many other fellow artists, including myself. We all want to know your story and the story of this collection. May I?”

I thought for a moment. Perhaps, I could say, just say a little bit about that one person, the one that taught me all the blues we could see, the blues of the world. The one that showed me that we can see the world through whatever lens we make it despite all that restricts us. The one that proved to me, dreams might seem blue, but they were worth chasing after. 

“Yes. Ask your question.”

“Who inspired your style and your art of painting in every hue of blue?”

It was enough—closure for Yoon, closure for me, closure for the blues that belonged to us.

“The boy with the blue clouds.”